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Developing criminal justice responses to illegal trade in timber

Hanoi (Viet Nam), 7 November 2013
- With a third of its area covered by forests, Southeast Asia faces significant challenges posed by the illegal trade in timber. According to UNODC estimates, the value of the illicit trade in wood-based products from East Asia and the Pacific is USD $17 billion annually.

Sophisticated criminal operations significantly contribute to forest exploitation. The illicit timber trade increasingly bears all the characteristics of organized crime, including illegal cross-border movements, the use of violence and widespread corruption to protect and facilitate activities, and a hierarchical and networked organization.

Until recently, attempts to address this problem have focussed on preservation of existing forests and local illegal logging suppression measures. There's now a growing awareness among government authorities that an effective response to the illegal trade in timber must combine economic and regulatory measures with a criminal justice response that recognises illicit trade in timber as a transnational organized crime.

"National criminal justice strategies that respond to these sophisticated crimes should be developed," said Mr. Giovanni Broussard, UNODC PATROL Programme Officer, at a joint Government of Viet Nam-UNODC workshop to counter crime in the forestry sector.

"We need to improve multi-agency cooperation to investigate existing cases, include forest offences as predicates for anti-money laundering cases, improve specialised training across all levels, and improve data collection capacity on criminal cases," said Mr. Broussard.

Titled "Good Governance and the threats of Transnational Organized Crime in the Forestry Sector", the workshop was the first of its kind in Viet Nam.

Participants included representatives from Viet Nam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Customs Department, and Supreme People's Procuracy and members of international organizations including UNODC, the European Forestry Institute, the Forest and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP).

Although it is one of the world's top exporters of furniture, Viet Nam's forested area has increased nearly 18 per cent from 2000 to 2010, largely due to government reforestation initiatives. This underscores the complex challenges that remain in halting illegal timber imports from neighboring countries and the need to prioritise criminal justice responses.

Interdisciplinary collaboration between the Forest Authority, Customs, Border Guards, and the Ministry of Public Security is essential to combating illegal logging and smuggling, emphasized Mr Nguyen Manh Hien, Director of The Supreme People's Procuracy of Viet Nam.

"While more needs to be done to reduce and eradicate the illicit trade in timber, the workshop is an example of the growing awareness of this problem," said Mrs. Zhuldyz Akisheva, UNODC Country Manager for Viet Nam. "It affirms the commitment of the Government of Viet Nam and UNODC to develop and use criminal justice responses to more effectively counter the illicit timber trade."